A teenage gang member was jailed for life on Tuesday for murdering a schoolboy caught in the crossfire of a dispute between gangs, in a shooting that shocked Britain.
Sean Mercer, 18, will serve a minimum of 22 years for firing three bullets across a pub parking lot, one of which hit 11-year-old Rhys Jones in the neck on Aug. 22 last year as he cycled home from soccer training in Liverpool, northwest England.
The boy died hours later in his mother’s arms, in an incident that prompted widespread media soul-searching about the pervasiveness of gang culture and guns.
“It is wrong to let anyone glorify or romanticize this kind of gang conflict,” Judge Stephen Irwin told Mercer while sentencing him. “You are not soldiers. You have no discipline, no training, no honor. You do not command respect.”
Irwin described the gang as “selfish, shallow criminals, remarkable only by the danger you pose to others.”
“[Rhys Jones] died because of your brutality and because you are a coward,” he said.
Six other gang members, aged between 16 and 26, were also convicted of assisting Mercer, after helping him evade police custody for months.
The verdicts had been reached on Monday, but could not be reported immediately.
Jones’ mother Melanie broke down in the court as Mercer’s verdict was read out, while his father Stephen choked back tears.
“Finally justice has been done for Rhys,” Stephen Jones said after the verdict was read.
“For the family today this is not the final chapter in this tragedy but now at least we can begin the challenge of rebuilding our lives,” he said.
During the trial, the court was told that Mercer was a leading member of the Croxteth Crew gang, which had been terrorizing the local community and feuding with the Strand Gang, which was based on a neighboring housing estate.
He had been aiming at members of the rival gang in the pub parking lot who had apparently been cycling on his gang’s territory.
“Since killing Rhys and during his trial, it is fair to say Sean Mercer has shown no remorse whatsoever,” said Detective Superintendent Dave Kelly, who led the investigation. “We only hope that the verdict will bring home to him the enormity of what he has done and the pain and suffering he has caused.”